Many people don’t know it, but Portland, Oregon is one of the best places to visit for anyone who even remotely likes coffee. There’s a cafe almost at every turn, just like those high-end places back home where Starbucks branches abound. The Portland coffee scene is greatly supported by the “Third Wave” movement. Not just your average 3-in-1 or cheap beans! This group aims to produce high-quality coffee. To them, coffee is not merely a commodity. Instead, it is an artisanal item, much like wine. Skilled roasters use high-quality equipment, giving birth to an all new kind of coffee experience. This is distinct from the Robusta-dominated drinks we have today. And here’s proof — Portland has almost 900 coffee shops.
We recently checked out Third Wave Coffee Tours, whose enthusiastic guides run different walking excursions of the Portland’s coffee scene. Each tour lasts approximately three hours long, and each visits a different combination of coffee shops. We took a tour with an interesting title: “A Streetcar Named Delicious”. It runs every Sunday, at 10AM. It is special among others since it explores cafes from both sides of Oregon’s Willamette River. The tour makes use of Portland’s public transit, and traverses through different neighborhoods.
A Little Learning
The weather for that day was good, but the time we spent in each of the five coffee shops was even better! It all started in a large cafe named “Case Study Coffee”, located in SW 10th Avenue. After being inducted by the tour-guide on coffee’s history and its production, we were treated to a brew-method demonstration from a barista. In the demo, he showed us how to prepare the exact same coffee in three various ways. He then encouraged us to think about how it affected the coffee. It was like an impromptu seminar — I’m sure I could use these things when I get home.
The first method he used through a French press. Here I noticed that the product was a little weaker than what I am used to — the beans were good and all, but the flavor was lacking. This was because all the water is poured in at once, and the filter holes are too big. Because of this, the water did not have enough time to absorb all the flavors of the coffee.
In the second method, he used a Chemex coffeemaker. Here, water was poured every 10 seconds. For me, this had a better taste since the water just had enough time to absorb the flavor and aroma.
Finally, he used a Kalita dripper. Here, I noticed that the coffee was stronger than the second brew. Good thing I didn’t drink everything in one gulp! This was because the water had been left with the beans for so long, therefore taking too much time to absorb the coffee flavor. This was an enlightening experience for me — and it really was a Case Study in Coffee!
Trinkets, Chocolate, and More Variety
We also dropped by Cup & Bar, which emphasizes not just on artisanal coffee but also on chocolate. I found their philosophy interesting — as much as possible, they try to source their coffees from all-female staffed coops. In the cafe, we witnessed the magic of coffee being roasted. It was marvelous seeing the structure of the coffee changing, and hearing the cracks that marked those changes. We were also treated to their specialty “Dirty Charlie”. This is a drink with cacao nib ice cream under a layer of espresso with foam and shaved chocolate as toppings. It looks messy, but looks have never been as deceiving as this. On the side, we had some mouthwatering sourdough toast and jam.
Afterwards, we visited Ristretto Roasters for a crash course in cupping and smelling. This was difficult for beginners, but I really enjoyed it. I also loved the fact that we were given a chance to taste test everything so we can figure out what we really liked. We chose between three different brews of Ristretto coffee — using beans from Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil.
From the Coffee Truck, Back to the Streetcar
Finally, we dropped by somewhere unexpected — a food truck! It was called “Ole Latte”, located on Alder St. The Portland Pine latte was great! They made it using syrup from the Douglas Fir, which is the state plant of Portland (hence the name). They also have an interesting “pay-it-forward” process, where you can pay for an extra coffee. Instead of getting this coffee now, though, you can list it on a board where you can get it later. It’s like saving up for those days when you don’t have any money on you and you desperately need a caffeine fix. That happens to the best of us!
After that tour, I realized I might have drank too much coffee. I felt so hyper! But my friend didn’t mind — she loved the tour so much that she bought a bag of coffee beans from every shop. It was a really great caffeinated experience — and we learned a lot, too! If you’re anywhere near a coffee lover — or even if you’re just curious — I highly recommend A Streetcar Named Delicious. If you can’t make it on a Sunday, Third Wave also runs tours on other days of the week. There are different formats and different cafes to go to each day. You can go to the posh Pearl District on Tuesdays, and downtown on Wednesdays. If you’re doughnut crazy, you can hop in on Thursdays — while those who love to keep fit can avail of the “running” coffee tour!
Third Wave Tours can be booked online for $40, and it is recommended that you book in advance especially during peak season (which often falls during summer and spring). It’s around those times when you have strict competition from caffeine junkies from all around the world!